Travel Ecuador: Exploring Loja

In the past year we have spent a lot of time in isolation from the “real world” and big cities, spending the majority of our time in nature or quiet towns. So when we have to pop into cities for transit, we tend to spend as little time possible surrounded by the concrete and noise. Rarely we feel as though we missed out by not giving ourselves more time to explore. Ecuador has surprised us however, as many of the cities we’ve passed through have left us wanting more.

Loja is at the top of our list of random cities to visit! If you’re in the area, definitely stop by.

Home to just over 180,000 people and two of Ecuador’s major universities, Loja city has a friendly, welcoming, upbeat vibe the second you enter the streets. Nicknamed “The Musical Capital of Ecuador,” it hosts a number of festivals, has plenty of street art and beautiful Spanish architectural buildings, and a reputation for its great restaurants and night life.

We stopped in on our way north to the Amazon Rainforest after spending two months deep in the alpine forest village of Yangana. After a two hour cab journey we arrived at our hotel, only to find we left our passports under the mattress at our last home.

We had to catch a flight out of Loja, but thank the Universe we had decided to spend 2 nights in the city, to revel in the hot water showers and eat some proper takeaways (sushi) before heading into jungle.

We learned that the people of the Loja province were even MORE wonderful than we experienced for the past two months, which was hard to imagine possible. Our cab driver made the drive back to us on his own with the passports in hand for $20USD. I doubled it and he reluctantly took it, saying “It’s ok it’s just my job!” (#lovethiscountry)

Although we had a bit of a panicked welcome to the city, it didn’t stop us. We we’re preparing now ourselves for the Ayahuasca diet, so we had juices and teas in some funky places, got our sushi takeaways, and had free front row seats to a football parade down the street outside our window.

The next day we wandered around checking out the markets, buildings and parks and eating ceviche. Blog post coming soon on Things to Do in Loja. It felt like we were in a fairy tale when we were in certain spots of the town.

We even caught the tail end of a catholic wedding at the church across the road from our hotel. So romantic. And our trip wouldn’t have been complete without checking out the shopping mall markets, complete with a vape shop and KFC. We didn’t eat there, but it’s always fun to take note of where KFC pops up in this world. We stuck to our SushiCat for the most part, because nothing says “Ecuadorian Adventure” quite like sushi rolls.

Loja will always hold a special place in my heart for reasons other than the view and cuisine. I have been working hard on my Spanish for months now but Loja was the first place that I realized I actually speak the language.

I had to ask for itchy bite cream at the pharmacy and spoke naturally in Spanish without thinking—so naturally that the pharmacist replied to me in Spanish so fast, I had no idea what was happening. I asked her to repeat slowly and we laughed and she told me (in Spanish) she had no idea I was learning because my pronunciation was perfect! That was a pretty cool moment, after 5 years of half-learning and 1 year of really trying, I can say I speak Spanish! Yo hablo español!

We found out after leaving Loja that one of the main reasons the Spanish founded Loja was to use as a departure town for missions through the Amazon Basin in search of the mythical and mystical El Dorado. Although we missed El Dorado, we did embark Loja in pursuit of Amazonia and the Basin. We did cheat a little by using air and land transport, but we did spend some time in on the rivers.

We stayed at Hotel Libertador, one of the city’s nicer accommodations. (Click here for 10% off your hotel booking anywhere in the world). It was outdated but comfortable, the breakfast was lovely (a buffet with an omelet chef), the weekday staff were absolutely wonderful, and there was a gym and hot water!

The only thing was, they ruined my clothes at the in-house laundry. I thought that by paying a bit more we’d have excellent service. Over time we’ve learned that more expensive often does not mean higher quality. The “clean” clothes came back with the same strange stain on almost everything, and the weekend staff said they’d knock $5 off my $15 laundry bill. I said I wasn’t paying anything as 90% of my clothes were now ruined, and the front desk lady thought it was a good idea let the laundry lady come into our room to yell at us in Spanish while telling us us she didn’t get the stain on all my clothes…if only I had realized I spoke Spanish a day later. Couldn’t plead expat ignorance, I had to argue in a foreign language. It was all really weird, definitely the strangest hotel/customer service experience we’ve ever had. But we enjoyed the breakfast a lot and got a late check out. And of course, we didn’t pay a penny for the laundry.

All in all, Loja was wonderful and we will definitely be back. Surrounded by forests, mountains and rivers, there’s more to explore outside the city, we barely even touched on it. They host many musical acts at little bars and bigger venues, and this November is their 3rd annual performing arts festival. They have plenty of cevicherias at great prices, and the locals are welcoming and kind. Go Loja!

Sad to leave but super excited because we got upgraded to the front row. It’s the little things in life that count.

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